Hollywood Films & Deaf Films:
Past, Present, and Future

Los Angeles

California State University, Northridge
April 7-9, 2005

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by James Kerwin

     “E.T.” the loveable alien may well be responsible for producing at least two talented Deaf filmmakers, as patrons of the first “Hollywood Films & Deaf Films” learned. Up and rising filmmakers, Wayne Betts Jr.
and Onisha Blagdon, both saw “E.T.” when they were just children.  It propelled them to produce movies.
Betts went on to produce experimental movies such as “Mr. V” (1999) and “A Need of Its Own” (2001).
The three-day program, “Hollywood Films & Deaf Films”, was held at California State University Northridge,
on April 7-9.  The event was sponsored jointly by the Deaf Studies Department and Sorenson VRS. The
theme of this event for the three days in sequence was the past, present and the future of Deaf cinema.

     Other Deaf filmmakers who presented their works were Daniele Le Rose, Yoon Lee, Arthur Luhn, and
Peter Wolf.  Howie Seago and Terrylene represented Deaf actors, while Gregg Brooks, Bernard Bragg, and
Julianna Fjeld shared their experiences as technical consultants.  They all contributed to the success of the
three-day event.   

    Stan Schuchman, author of the book, “Hollywood Speaks: Deafness and the Film Entertainment Industry”
kicked off the event into motion Thursday late afternoon, April 7th.  A CODA and former Provost of Gallaudet
University, Schuchman gave a historical overview of Hollywood movies that portray deaf characters from the
days of the Silent Films to the present time.

     Sheena McFeely, CSUN sophomore student said, “I tried to research Deaf acting history and I was amazed
how Stan really researched.  He not only tried to inform but also showed different clips to illustrate his points. 
That is one quality I am impressed with him.”

     Allen Neece, actor/educator, said “I enjoyed the most was learning about the history (of Deaf cinema). I also
felt it was same old news but it was inspiring to see the past to the point that we have a rich history. I wasn’t
aware of that. However, we still have a long way to go.”

     After Schuchman’s lecture, the double feature movie was screened to a full house of 135 people in Armer
Theater: ‘Dietro il Mondo” (translated as ‘Beyond the World’), produced by Daniele Le Rose, who travelled
to Los Angeles from Padova, Italy, and “The Golden Legacy’ (2003) produced by Arthur Luhn, who came
to CSUN from Boston.  “Dietro il Mondo” is about a group of Deaf Italian university students struggling with
the issue of interpreting problems at their university and a love triangle ending in a cliff-hanger. Le Rose
explained that he is still yet to complete the end of this movie. “The Golden Legacy” is an adventure movie
which could be described as a “crossbreed” in a deaf way between “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “National

     Friday’s program focused on the present. Wayne Betts Jr. presented some of his film work, which earned
him enthusiastic applause from the audience. Betts interacted with the audience, asking them if they understood
the “out of frame” signs when the shots were closed up to the signer’s face as shown in ‘Til Domestic Violence
Do Us Part.’  His advice to other filmmakers is “Don’t be afraid to experiment. Be free to be yourself.”

     Onisha Blagdon, a recent graduate of UCLA Film School, presented her research on how to become involved
and also successful in filmmaking. Blagdon said she realized instead of waiting for Hollywood to open the door
for her, she decided to set up her own production company.  She admitted that she made a number of mistakes
along the way, but more importantly, learned valuable lessons from these mistakes.

     Peter Wolf, a seasoned filmmaker, presented an array of his Hollywood films that he produced in the 1980s
and 1990s, as well as one of his earlier movies “Deafula” made in the 1970s. Wolf said, "I take on many caps
to save money. I can make five small projects at once."

     Yoon Lee, a filmmaking teacher at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside, presented several clips of
his first movie “No Talking Allowed.”  After from many years of videotaping work for television, he was asked
a question on what the difference is between filmmaking and television work. Lee said that filmmaking is more
emotional whereas television producing is more straightforward. “Film gives me more freedom,” he added.

     Daniele LeRose presented the clip of ‘Fratelli d’ Italia’ (translated as ‘Brother of Italy’), a poetic expression
of pride and solidarity of Italy with different camera angles. His other work, “NYC24h”, “Dewdrop of Comfort”
was also drawing interest from the audience.

     Friday night’s event, “Spotlight on Deaf Individuals’ Stellar Contributions to Hollywood Films & Deaf Films”
was held at the Performing Arts Center to approximately 300 people. Howie Seago, actor in “Beyond Silence”
and “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” said in Friday night’s program “could be the beginning of Deaf Hollywood
on an official basis.” Seago added, “Not that we need awards but to recognize Deaf artists and their work.”

    Gregg Brooks, a Deaf graduate of American Film Institute, was the Master of Ceremonies throughout the
evening. He presented guests: Bernard Bragg, Julianna Fjeld, Terrrylene, Howie Seago, Stan Schuchman and
Mel Carter. There were also two important tributes made in that evening, one to the late Lenny Meyer [who
shared the same lifespan as the recently deceased Pope John Paul II (1920-2005)] for his outstanding service to
the Deaf Community in Los Angeles, and to Audree Norton for her determination in paving the way for future
Deaf actors in Hollywood.  She was interviewed live on the large screen at CSUN from her home in San Francisco
Bay Area that was made possible by Sorenson VRS.

     Saturday’s program focused on the future of Deaf cinema. This event was held in the Johnson Auditorium.
Approximately 100 people attended. The three-day Deaf films event program coordinator, Genie Gertz said,
“The more information we have the better consciousness we have.”  Lawrence Fleischer, Chair, Deaf Studies
Department at CSUN, added, “Movies are a powerful medium. The future of Deaf Cinema is important.
We must build more self-representation. Hollywood is powerful but has been, in most cases, misrepresenting
Deaf people.  They operate their business based on money-making while we strive for a better representation
of Deaf people in movies.”

     Involved in the Saturday discussions included Mel Carter, Stan Schuchman, Bernard Bragg, Howie Seago,
CJ Jones, Yoon Lee, Onisha Blagdon, Terrylene, Daniele LeRose, Arthur Luhn, Wayne Betts, Gregg Brooks,
Peter Wolf and John Maucere.  Many excellent suggestions generated in discussions which included topics on
how to produce and distribute films, and ideas for future development of Deaf cinema.

     Kevin Nolan, originally from New England, the first Deaf-born politician to be elected by the public in the
United States, said he was thrilled about the three-day Hollywood Films & Deaf Films. Nolan and his wife
decided to settle down in Los Angeles for retirement and that way they could be close to their two offspring
who are attending university in Los Angeles.  Nolan returned to his passion; that is, acting. “The three-day
event really gave me all I need to know and it makes me feel better that I am not the only one who is frustrated.” 
He exclaimed, “When I retired, I decided to go back to acting. The event (Hollywood Films & Deaf Films) was
perfect timing!”


Welcome to Los Angeles.  Needless to say, Los Angeles is identified primarily as a movie-making
city.  Movies with deaf characters have been with us since the era of the Silent Movie.  Later on,
Deaf filmmakers became involved to make a number of movies.  With the long history of Hollywood
films and Deaf films, I am delighted to see that both deaf and hearing filmmakers and scholars get
together on April 7-9, 2005 at several different locations on the campus of California State University,
Northridge to share the cornucopia of information they have with us and, more importantly, develop
a critical discourse on Deaf cinema and how we can work together to produce more Deaf films.  
You are very much welcome to join us for the three-day Deaf film event.  Deep appreciation must
be made to Sorenson VRS and CSUN Deaf Studies Department, without whom this event
would not have been possible.

Genie Gertz
Program Coordinator

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